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The Best Of Minnesota Oktoberfest Beers

October 6, 2011 8:00 AM

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(credit: Jupiter Images)

(credit: Jupiter Images)

Much as it is with Christmas, it’s sad to see how far Oktoberfest has strayed from its true roots. Back in 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on Oct. 12 in Munich, it was all about celebrating by drinking lots and lots of beer. What? That’s what it’s still about? Nevermind.

American brewers have started to get in on the game as well, with big names like Sam Adams getting in on the act with their very own Oktoberfest brew, but what about the brewers right here in Minnesota? There is, after all, a strong German heritage in the area, so it seems like it would only follow that some of our local breweries could whip up a pretty mean Oktoberfest of their own. But first, the control:

oktoberfest1 The Best Of Minnesota Oktoberfest Beers

(credit: CBS)

Ayinger Oktoberfest

Ayinger can lay claim to being an authentic brewer of Oktoberfest, located as it is in Aying, Bavaria, just a short 25 km from Munich. Plus, their Oktober Fest-Märzen was the highest rated Vienna Märzen in 2007. Noticeably less dark than most American versions of Oktoberfest, Ayinger’s brew has the crisp light flavor of a beer like Pilsner Urquell, although with unmistakable honey overtones that push it a bit darker and gives it its amber character. It’s available at finer liquor stores like South Lyndale Liquors and although it’s underrepresented at local bars, similarly truly German Oktoberfest beers (such as Spaten, Paulaner, and Hacker Pschorr) can be had at Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit in Minneapolis and The Glockenspiel in Saint Paul.

Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit
2300 University Avenue Northeast
Minneapolis, MN 55418
(612) 781-3860
Hours: Tue-Thu 5pm-10pm; Fri-Sat 4pm-11pm; Sun 3pm-10pm

The Glockenspiel
605 7th St W
St Paul, MN
Hours: Daily 11am-1pm

schellsoktoberfest2011 The Best Of Minnesota Oktoberfest Beers

(credit: Schell

Schell’s Oktoberfest

New Ulm brewer Schell’s makes its version of Oktoberfest using Pale, Munich, and Cara Pils malt in combination with Liberty and Perle hops to create a brew with a character very similar to the Ayinger. It’s a little less crisp and has a kind of sour sweetness, plus the blunter flavor doesn’t sustain as well. It’s still got scads more flavor than your typical American lager, though, and well worth a try.

August Schell Brewing Co.
1860 Schell Road
New Ulm, MN 56073
Hours: Tours giving Friday, Saturday & Sunday’s check site for specific times based on season

leinenhugel oktoberfest page The Best Of Minnesota Oktoberfest Beers

(credit: Leinenkugel)

Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest

Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest is a bit more bitter than your other Oktoberfest options, but also the softest overall. You could call it the easiest drinking of the beers here, the least in your face but also maybe the least interesting to the palate. Like Schell’s, it uses Pale and Munich malt, plus Caramel and Tettnang, Cluster, and Hallertau hops in addition to Perle. Bottom line, if you enjoy Leinie’s, you’ll probably dig this, but it’s nothing to write home about. Located about two hours from Minneapolis you can take a tour of the brewery, which is open daily.

Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
124 E Elm St.
Chippewa Falls, WI 54729
Hours: Mon-Thurs, Sat 9am-5pm; Fri 9am-8pm; Sun 11am-4pm

summitoktoberfest The Best Of Minnesota Oktoberfest Beers

(credit: Summit Brewery)

Summit Oktoberfest

Just about any bar with a seasonal Summit selection, Sweeney’s, The Bulldog NE, Happy Gnome is bound to be pouring Summit’s Oktoberfest this fall, and with good reason. Summit EPA is ubiquitous and unfortunately a poor representation of the brand, which does a better job with its seasonal offerings. Their Oktoberfest is no slacker, a well-balanced beer that’s plenty malty and not overly hoppy. A clear winner over Leinie’s and Schell’s.

Summit Brewery
910 Montreal Cir
St. Paul, MN 55102
(651) 265-7800
Hours: Weekdays 8:30am-4:30pm; Sat 1pm-3pm

surly fest can The Best Of Minnesota Oktoberfest Beers

(credit: Surly Brewing Co.)

Surly Surlyfest

Tiny Brooklyn Park brewery Surly takes the most liberty with their take on Oktoberfest, which is not at all surprising since the can itself says, “A traditional Oktoberfest bier from Surly? Nein!” Known for the intense hoppiness of their year-round brews like Furious and Bender, Surly provides a similar hoppiness in Surlyfest. This gives it a punch, but a much blunter one than the sharpness of Ayinger. It’s definitely the darkest of the bunch, with the end result being not so much a straight Oktoberfest beer as such a beer seen through the lens of Surly’s emphasis on hops and strength. It’s on tap at lots of places around town, including the Nomad World Pub, which also features a couple other non-German Oktoberfests – Shiner Oktoberfest from Texas and New Belgium’s Hoptober from Colorado.

Surly Brewing Co.
4811 Dusharme Dr
Minneapolis, MN 55429
(763) 535-3330
Hours: Tours run most Friday’s 6pm-8pm and most Saturday’s 5pm-7pm

Steve McPherson is a writer and musician who has lived in the Twin Cities since 2004, where he teaches writing and music at McNally Smith. His dog is named after both a drink and a guitar. He tweets from @steventurous.

View Comments
  • Johnny Rain Cloud

    Do yourself a favor and get Sam Adams Octoberfest. Probably the best out there or a close tie to Paulaner. Forget the local stuff it doesn’t compare!

  • Pale Ale Man

    I’m sorry Johnny rain cloud, but that is simply not true. Summit Oktoberfest is a traditional marzen style brew, and easily the best of it’s kind in the state. Surly and Ayinger as well. The Schells, Lienie’s AND Sam Adams are for the kid who just turned 21 and isn’t ready for a real beer.

  • Doug Johnson

    The best beer is one that you enjoy. Simple.

    • Ross

      I completely agree! It should be about what you like, not about gaining approval from somebody else!

  • Keith

    Too bad Keystone doesn’t come out with their own version lol!

  • Kenneth Sachs

    Some years ago Grain Belt under Minnesota Brewing put out an Octoberfest beer that was better than famous brands from Germany. At the last American Express sponsored Taste of the Nation, the brewmaster was there and cried when I asked him about the beer. He said it was his best beer ever and that he was not allowed to brew it again.

  • Ben F.

    My 2 cents…Spaten has the best Oktoberfest. Summit and Schells are not bad. Surley, Leinenkugel’s and Ayinger are almost undrinkable.

  • Jean N.

    Normally I’m a huge fan of Schell’s, having lived in New Ulm, but I think Summit’s Oktoberfest brew is the best this year!

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